How Leyland’s revolutionary single decker began 42 years of National service within Greater Manchester
For your maximum enjoyment, this article is best read in conjunction with the Not So Perfect Ten article on Experimental SELNEC and GMT Buses Since 1969. Thank you.
For many people, 1971 meant Decimalisation, hot pants and T-Rex. In the bus world, the orange and white of SELNEC made its presence known throughout today’s TfGM boundaries; in our living rooms, 10 million homes tuned in to the antics of Stan Butler and company in London Weekend Television’s On The Buses. Instead of the fictitious Luxton, Lillyhall was the UK bus industry’s centre of gravity. A legacy that would outlive LWT’s series by several years. Not only on our streets, but also on our railways.
Whilst municipal operators and PTEs were standardising their buses to improve maintenance, the newly formed National Bus Company in cooperation with British Leyland would develop a standard single decker. It would eschew the common practice of separating bodywork design from chassis, being a truly integral bus.
British Leyland’s state of the art plant on the outskirts of Workington would build their standard single decker. Their aim was to replace all previous models such as the Bristol RE and AEC Swift. Owing to its partnership with the National Bus Company, it was bestowed the name ‘Leyland National’. There would be two versions of the Leyland National. The Mark I included its distinctive roof pod at the back with a Leyland 510 engine. Mark IIs would have a slightly more bulbous front and a choice of two engines: the 0.680 and the TL11.
‘…What Manchester Does Today…’
1970s Manchester must have been an exciting place for bus enthusiasts. As well as state of the art Mancunian style Leyland Atlanteans and Daimler Fleetlines in white and sunglow orange, there was traces of former municipal liveries. Modern rear engine vehicles would share the streets with open platformed Leyland PD2s.
In 1972, another influential vehicle would be seen on the streets: the very first production model of the Leyland National. Allocated fleet number EX30, it would enter service in the standard SELNEC livery in April with dual doors, measuring 11.5 metres, along with a further seven, allocated fleet numbers EX31/32/33/34/35/36/37. The following year saw SELNEC order a further four, allocated fleet numbers EX38/39/40/41. This time, measuring 10.5 metres with a single door.
After 1973, SELNEC’s and Greater Manchester Transport would adopt the Leyland National as their standard single decker. This would continue till 1979 when ABA 30T was their last order. A great many would also enter service with Lancashire United Transport after GMT’s acquisition in 1975, and amalgamated into the GMT fleet list in 1981.
Greater Manchester Transport’s examples would be seen on lightly used services. They were often seen on short distance local services such as the 353 to Uppermill. Or on routes with low bridges such as the 415 to Middleton. In some parts of Greater Manchester, they would either be seen in the poppy red of Ribble or the leaf green of Crosville on cross-boundary services.
From October 1985, they would also be seen in the GMT orange and brown livery well away from the GMPTE boundary. Not in transport fairs but exotic locations like Hull Paragon, Sheffield Midland and Manchester Victoria.
Thanks to British Rail’s pioneering work with the LEV1 railbus, Greater Manchester’s link with the Leyland National would be seen on the permanent way. Enter the Class 142 Pacer unit, its predecessor [the Class 141] and from 1987 onwards, the Class 143, 144, 153 and 155 diesel multiple units. The Class 141 – 144 DMUs originally had the Leyland TL11 engines, fitted with the Leyland National Mark II. Reliability issues saw a change of engine, in favour of Cummins’ LTA10-R.
After re-engining improved its reliability, the Class 142 units remain on Greater Manchester railways to this today. Not bad for a 42 year old bodywork design? However, not everything was rosy when the Leyland National’s bodywork was used on the Class 155 DMUs. The length of these units in the two car units led to sagging. These were ameliorated when all but a handful of two-car Class 155s became single car Class 153 DMUs.
By the end of 1986, the Leyland National had ceased production. With the privatisation of National Bus Company and the introduction of bus deregulation, the Leyland National would prove its worth again. With Passenger Transport Executives and newly privatised NBC subsidiaries selling off surplus vehicles, some would end up in the hands of recently formed independent operators.
At the dawn of deregulation, they became a popular option for emergent operators, or coach companies who have returned to, or began stage carriage operations. Yelloway’s return to bus operations included Nationals among their secondhand fleet. In the Tameside area, Tame Valley Motor Services and Pennine Blue would opt for them in 1991. The latter along with Bristol REs – which the Leyland National was meant to replace among other British Motor Corporation lines.
Bigger companies realised their worth. 1993 saw competition between GM Buses and Merseybus in their respective areas. December 1993’s split of GM Buses into two bus operations saw GM Buses North and GMS Buses try to gain a foothold in Merseyside. GM Buses North opted for Liverpool, GMS for Birkenhead with a revived Birkenhead and District. Meanwhile, Merseybus’ successor MTL Holdings formed MTL Manchester, who would compete with GM Buses’ North and South companies on key routes. No prizes for guessing which single deckers would be seen on their 211 service…
Conversely, both GM Buses North and GMS Buses expanded their single decker fleets with secondhand Nationals as a stopgap option. For the first time, the Mark II versions would be seen departing from Daw Bank and Hyde Road.
By 1995, the company hitherto known for its minibuses saw their unique selling point diluted in favour of secondhand double decker and single decker buses. Among the latter category were neatly painted Leyland Nationals, in a new version of the yellow and red livery with ‘Bee Line’ in Times New Roman. At that time, they were used in competition with GMS Buses’ and GM Buses North’s services.
For several years, the Leyland National was a visionary single decker bus, but the arrival of low floor vehicles meant its days were numbered. Some would stay till the end of Bee Line’s era in 1998, by then seen in a more red version of their livery. They would still be used by independent operators till the dawn of the 21st century.
One of the last Greater Manchester operators to use Leyland Nationals was Midwest. As late as 2004, they tried to compete with Stagecoach Manchester on the 192 service to Hazel Grove. Unlike the Perth giant’s operation, Midwest’s journeys continued to Higher Poynton and began from Lever Street Bus Station.
Today, Midwest and Lever Street Bus Station are no more, as are Leyland Nationals on stage carriage services in the Greater Manchester area. For future generations, EX30 is a regular in the bus preservation scene, thanks largely to Greater Manchester Museum of Transport. Without a doubt, the Leyland National – including EX30 of course – was just as influential to UK bus operations as the Bennett/Mortimer Mancunian style Atlanteans and Fleetlines. Not only in the late 1960s and the whole of the 1970s, but also till the arrival of true low floor buses in late 1990s.
I doubt as if the hot pants would fit 42 years on from initial purchase, but the legroom of EX30 will always be more generous than some of today’s vehicles. Whether we see Dennis Dart SLFs in the preservation movement 42 years since manufacture remains to be seen.
S.V., 22 November 2013.